(eng) class composition and autoworkers (fwd)

Chris (red@iww.org)
Thu, 24 Oct 1996 16:33:57 +0200


A friend was writing about the recent Canadian autoworkers strike and I
now wonder if folks on this list have anything to say about the
re/composition of the autoworkers in Canada, the United States, etc. I
wonder how connected the recent Canadian strike has been to the
simultaneous mobilization of various unionized and ununionized workers,
students, poor people, etc. against overall austerity measures
culminating in a planned general strike in Toronto, Ontario, Canada this
Friday. Does anyone have anything on this, by the way?

The following is a perhaps intersting article written last spring about
the U.S. autoworkers strike...

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Ryan Daum <rdaum@gpu.srv.ualberta.ca>

General Motors strike against 'outsourcing'
--Dianne Feeley

March 15, Detroit--What started on March 5 as a local labor dispute
at two General Motors' brake-parts plants in Dayton, Ohio has
become the largest strike against GM in twenty-five years.
Currently 21 of the 29 North American assembly plants and thirty
parts plants are shut down. Nearly 100,000 workers out: 3,000
workers on strike, the vast majority laid off because of a shortage
of brake parts. Because the Dayton plants supply more than 90% of
the brake components used in GM vehicles--and because just-in-time
inventory makes the system vulnerable--the strike has cut GM's
North American production by 75%. Currently GM is losing about $45
million every strike day.

At the heart of the strike is outsourcing, the growing practice of
buying parts from independent parts suppliers. "Lean and mean
production" is based on a two-tiered production system, with the
second, lower tier being the parts suppliers, whose labor costs are
typically one-third lower. The secret to the cheaper cost? Only
one in five parts supplier is unionized.

Of all the auto makers, GM has the most extensive network of parts
plants. It has been the slowest of the big three to aggressively
cut costs by selling off its plants. While Ford's outside suppliers
account for 61% of the dollar value of a typical vehicle and the
figure stands at 67% for Chrysler, for GM the percentage stands at

Although the General Motors-United Auto Workers (UAW) contract
doesn't allow strikes over the issue of outsourcing, the Dayton
local charged GM with not keeping its promises for additional jobs
and investment to upgrade the plant's technology. This failure,
they asserted, led to GM's recent decision to equip the 1998 Camaro
and Firebird cars with antilock break systems from Robert Bosch
Gmbil. This decision would cost the local 128 future jobs.

In addition, while GM is continuing to produce brake systems in
Dayton, it has subcontracted out the assembly of electrical panels.
The UAW contends that the company should have hired additional
workers. However the company claims it had no obligation beyond
asking the existing work force--already working six-day weeks--to
put in more overtime. Once they refused, the company was free to
subcontract the work out.

Over the past twenty-five years both unemployment and forced
overtime had been increasing. According to Juliet Schor's The
Overworked American (NY: Basic Books, 1992), the average U.S.
worker puts in an additional 168 hours a year, or nearly an
additional month's worth of work. This is particularly true in the
auto industry, where the nine-hour day and six-day work week are
typical. In fact, the UAW estimates that 59,000 jobs would be
created if plants were limited to a forty-hour week.

While in the past the media has portrayed auto workers as highly
paid workers who had no right to complain about their jobs because
they were well compensated, the successful 1994 Flint strike to
force GM to hire more workers (and thus reduce forced overtime)
dramatized the fact that workers want to be able to do something
else with their lives besides work. That strike was led by
militants from New Directions, a small but articulate reform caucus
inside the UAW. It won a commitment to hire 779 workers--the first
workers hired by GM in eight years.

The International UAW has authorized the Dayton strike in order to
strengthen its hand in the weeks before the bargaining opens for a
new three-year contract with the Big Three. (The current contract
expires on September 14.) Since his election last year, UAW
president Stephen Yokich has vowed--in speeches around the country-
-to take on the outsourcing issue. Yokich's militant speeches, if
backed up by UAW muscle, would be a big turnaround for the UAW.
The restructuring within the auto industry over the past fifteen
years, primarily through outsourcing, has halved UAW membership.

GM has drawn a line in the sand because it must cut costs, beat
back competitors and arrest a market-share drop. According to the
Wall Street Journal, GM is more committed today to its cost-cutting
efforts than it was two years ago, it has more cash to sustain a
strike today, and it is willing to sacrifice market share and
profits to win major concessions from the UAW. GM is determined to
preserve its right to outsource whenever and wherever it needs to
do so. The dispute is really about GM's fight to remain
"competitive" in a global economy versus the needs and aspirations
of its work force.

The author is a leading member of the US group Solidarity

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